Baby Pac-Man (Arcade) review
"While everyone knows of Midway's unauthorized sequels to "Pac-Man", namely "Ms. Pac-Man" and to a lesser extent, "Jr. Pac-Man", very few have heard of this questionable game. Releasing in 1982, a year after "Mrs. Pac-Man" and a year before "Jr. Pac-Man", it never seemed to catch on in the arcades the way the other games in the series had. In fact, out of all the malls, theaters, restaurants, shopping centers, convenience stores, and arcades that I have perused for pay-per-play video game action,..."
While everyone knows of Midway's unauthorized sequels to "Pac-Man", namely "Ms. Pac-Man" and to a lesser extent, "Jr. Pac-Man", very few have heard of this questionable game. Releasing in 1982, a year after "Mrs. Pac-Man" and a year before "Jr. Pac-Man", it never seemed to catch on in the arcades the way the other games in the series had. In fact, out of all the malls, theaters, restaurants, shopping centers, convenience stores, and arcades that I have perused for pay-per-play video game action, I have only ever encountered this arcade machine once. Like the other games in the series, the game constitutes another attempt at innovating on the winning "Pac-Man" formula by keeping its basics while adding new and interesting content.
The innovation presented by "Baby Pac-Man" was so new that it caught my eye immediately. While the video game's main character may have been the fictional love-child of Pac-Man and his wife, the arcade game was the love-child of the two primary staples in all arcade-dom, namely the video game and the pinball machine. This game was an integration, a hybrid, of both of these types of games, with one portion of the game being an altered "Pac-Man" game, and the other being a unique pinball game. These two different types of games would switch off between each other at key points in a given game, and results from one would affect the other significantly.
While the game starts off in the realm of a typical "Pac-Man" video game, there are some notable differences. The first is that by default, power pellets are initially missing from the screen, leaving Baby Pac-Man defenseless against the wiles of the monsters pursuing him. The second is that the monsters are all very fast, "Blinky" being immediately faster than Baby Pac-Man and pursuing him relentlessly. The other monsters are much more aggressive now as well, with each one having similar algorithms to target your path, and kill you quickly. It doesn't help matters much that, unlike the previous games in the series, your side escape tunnels have the effect of slowing you down while going through them, leaving you without even that relief. The third new element is the escape hatches at the bottom of the maze. Entering one of these pauses the video game, and puts you into pinball mode. Given that you will almost certainly die if you stay on the board too long without power pellets, it is urgent that you reach one of these hatches and switch to pinball mode as quickly as possible. Otherwise, it's more than likely that you could lose all three of your chances before finishing a single board, or playing a single moment of pinball.
The pinball game is well laid out if not a bit sparse, and as you'd expect, your performance in pinball determines your perks in the main game. On the left side of the pinball table is a set of lightable letters spelling "FRUITS". Each time that word is completely lit, your current fruit is advanced to the next level. There are eight fruit levels, worth from 100 to 5000 points progressively. On the right is a set of lightable letters spelling "TUNNEL". Each time that word is completely lit, the speed at which Baby Pac-Man can enter through one of the side escape tunnels increases. There are eight possible speeds. These words can be lit up by targeting the pinball successfully through the left or right u-turn tunnels once for each letter in "FRUITS" and "TUNNEL", respectively.
While both of these are helpful, what is essential is the earning of power pellets. There are four sets of lightable letters spelling "PAC MAN", two just left of the board's center, and two just right of it. These are lit up by hitting the targets above each of the four instances of that word, for each letter in that instance. Each one of these instances spelled out completely will cause a power pellet to appear when Baby Pac-Man returns to the video portion of the game. Additionally, these can be lit up by hitting the "Hoop Loop", which lights up the letters for the outside instances (numbers 1 and 4). If both of those are lit, hitting the two inside lanes will will light up the letters for the inside instances (numbers 2 and 3).
Finally, there are six lightable arrows in the center of the board (in the middle of the four instances of "PAC MAN") pointing up towards the top center of the board. Hitting this immediate top-center target lights one of those arrows. Once all four arrows are lit, the player earns an extra Baby Pac-Man. Spelling out "FRUITS" or "TUNNEL" will also light up one of the arrows, as will completing one of the mazes in the video portion of the game.
As you can see, the potential is there for a skilled pinball player to earn any number of items to increase his score or make his completion of a maze much easier, but the average pinball player will be very lucky to get just one power pellet. Once you lose your ball, you will be returned to the video game stage, and the lower escape hatches leading to the pinball game will be blocked until the next board. In practice, that means you get only one shot per maze to increase your chances of finishing that maze. Hopefully, you've earned one or more power pellet, as failing to do so will spell certain doom.
This was one of the first two games which tried this combination of video and pinball gaming (the other being a game called "Caveman"), and while I have to admit that it was both a brilliant idea in theory and an interesting attempt at expanding the "Pac-Man" formula to new horizons, its execution left the game lacking an element that the others had in spades. That element is "fun." It's really a shame, as this idea had so much potential to have resulted in a game high on difficulty and short on kicks. I'd like to say it's worth your quarter, but the experience is so unbelievably short for all but seasoned players, you'd probably get more lasting enjoyment turning the crank on a bubble-gum machine. The follow-up to this game, "Jr. Pac-Man", is superior in every way, and like "Ms. Pac-Man", it presents alterations on the "Pac-Man" formula that are much more appropriate and much more enjoyable. My advice to all but the most expert of pinball players is to pass on this game, and check that one out instead.
Community review by m0zart (March 27, 2006)
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